In a show of solidarity with the worldwide Occupy movement, hundreds showed up today at Centennial Park to march to various financial and government sites in downtown Fort Myers.
Before the march I spoke to a marcher who preferred anonymity.
“The top 1 percent have no problems being heard in Washington but, other people, their opinion doesn’t seem to matter. People don’t have enough money, who can’t afford to buy a congressman can’t make their needs known. There’s thing we can do to improve the economy and create jobs but they’re not willing to do it because they want to score points.”
It was splendid Florida weather as organizer Drew Scott informed the gathered, diverse crowd that Governor Rick Scott claimed to not understand why these protests were happening.
The crowd booed and one bystander said, “He knows exactly why we’re doing this.”
The marchers headed out of the park, proceeding toward the Bank of America. The line of marchers soon revealed itself to be over 6 blocks long and chanted: “Hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go.”
The crowd settled briefly before the Bank of America. Among them was Joann Finney.
“The main thing is to end the corruption,” she said, “so, we’re pretty sick of the corruption.”
I spoke to Bill Davis next, a senior gentleman with a wide sign with several points on it.
“Citzens United drives me crazy, is grossly unfair,” said Bill Davis, “quite possibly illegal. The Supreme Court should be overturned by constitutional amendment on that issue.”
Was President Obama being responsive to this movement?
“I’m convinced he is,” said Davis. “He has got to walk such a fine line. He has to be very conscious of not seeming to tilt too far to the left. These parades remind me of when I was a college student when we were protesting the Vietnam War. It’s a really touchy issue. Obama’s got to be very worried about his base and his chances of being re-elected. What would happen if he didn’t get elected? What if Romney or, worse yet, Bachmann or Perry? That’s completely insane.”
Police made an appearance.
Many young people were also at the protest.
“I need a job and no one’s hiring,” said Priscilla Nolan (above), “the economy is sh*t. I think this will make a difference. I think we can get their attention.”
The chant changed to: “This is what democracy looks like.”
They did not linger for long at the Bank of America and the next stop was to be the Wells Fargo. The marchers snaked down First Street.
The chant became: “They got bailed out, we got sold out.”
“Basically, larceny committed on a grand scale with the complicity of the government,” said another anonymous marcher. “Where public funds became corporate funds and the corporations continued to act as if they had no accountability or responsibility whatsoever to the American people and in fact proceeded to hasten the rate of foreclosures across the nation.”
As they approached Wells Fargo the chant became: “It’s not about money it’s about change.”
Thelma Smith, 53, had responsibility in mind.
“I wanted to be here to encourage my children to be active in politics,” said Smith, “to realize votes count and that when you’re united in a cause you can make a difference here in America.”
The marchers came up Main Street.
As we turned the corner, Bill Davis was resting on a bench.
“I’ve got two bad knees and a bad heart,” he said.
As we turned a corner, there was the sound of sirens and someone said, “If they want to arrest us they’ll need a very large paddy wagon.”
The noise seemed to be coming from a bullhorn as there was another gathering at City Hall.
Christy Jones, 24, had multiple concerns.
“I’m coming out here because we are part of the 99 percent,” said Jones, “and I need healthcare and I’ve got a lot of problems of my own and I’ve been turned down by many doctors because I don’t have healthcare. I’m here for everyone else out here without jobs, without homes. We give all our money to these corporations and we’re left without nothing. We want to show them that we’re fed up and we want something done.”
What would she like to see happen with healthcare?
“Anything. I’m not saying I want free health care for all,” said Jones, “but I definitely want something done to where if I have a preexisting condition it doesn’t matter. That I can buy healthcare if I want to. I’m not asking for something for free I’m asking for something I can purchase at a reasonable price.”
Single payer healthcare was taken off the table early on in negotiations that lead to the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
As they walked up Second Street toward the county jail, a blunt Ro Boggs was eager to speak.
“I’m kinda sick and tired of getting screwed over in this country,” said Boggs. “We have a great country of people. We have sucky people that are leading this place and robbing everybody blind. We’re gonna end up like Cuba pretty soon if we don’t watch what we’re doing. I’m passionate about this. I’m also an employee of the Lee County school system. I’m a union vice president. I want to make changes or you and me and my children and my grand kids are gonna be screwed and that’s it.”
The tough times seem to be bringing families closer.
“You see I have 3 sons,” said Boggs. “33 to 22 years old. They are making barely enough money to survive. They will never own a home. The banks got bailed out, gave all this money to free it up and my kids still can’t have a house. If it wasn’t for my job a lot of them would not eat sometimes. They cut all kinds of benefits for them.”
The chant became: “The people united can never be divided.”
At the jail the crowd remained in high spirits and police presence was limited. The marchers continued to be courteous, avoiding blocking traffic.
At this point, the march went onto Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and then turned back toward Centennial Park.
On Main Street, I created a bit of chaos when I jay walked and a large segment of marchers followed me.
There were no acts of vandalism or threatening behavior that I witnessed.
As the crowd came back into Centennial Park they were greeted by a drumming circle.
A 22 year old artist, Daniel Quina, saw hope.
“There’s so much propaganda,” said Quina. “So many lies. Our generation uses the internet and we know how to find and spread information. Our generation is bigger than the baby boomer generation and we have that power to change things.”
Some tents were set up on the grounds and several people were ready to camp out and test the limits of their rights.
One of them was Jeremy Walker, 36.
“I think that the main theme that I seem to recognize throughout the movement that I affiliate with,” said Walker, “is the growing inequality of wealth between the top 1% and the rest of us…I think it’s a very difficult thing to ask of our leaders to kind of bite the hand that feeds them and cut off their own gravy train.”
He believed election reform was also a common theme among movement members.
“All agree there needs to be a systemic overhaul of the system that’s in place,” Walker said.
Another attendee, Ernie Colby, repeated several themes, like a need to stop corruption and election reform which would include public funding of campaigns.
“The Supreme Court is saying that money is speech now,” said Colby. “It’s preposterous. It’s just worse and worse and I just hope this is something that catches on in many cities. There’s been many of fine song written about power to the people if it finally happens I’d like to see that. It’s going to take voter registration because that’s the only thing these people understand.”
The one political candidate he was aware of making a showing was Jim Roach.
“The thing that’s killing us right now is debt,” said Colby. “Especially government debt and that’s causing a lot of stagnation. But you’ll notice if you look at the curve of our debt it’s rising exponentially and whether or not there’s a Republican or a Democratic administration makes no difference the debt is growing the same.”
A circle formed and the bullhorn was given to anyone who wanted to share their point of view. One speaker made an interesting reference to Aesop’s fable of The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs. It is the story of greed so untamed that the goose’s owner was not happy with just the eggs that were laid but cuts the goose open to get to the eggs inside.
“We are that goose,” said the speaker.